[Dr. Aaron Lerner - IMRA: UNDOF commander Wolfgang Jilke attempts in this
interview to reassure Israelis that there is no reason to be concerned about
His proof?The Syrians could increase their forces by 150% overnight and
still be within the force limits set by the agreements and right now are
only repairing the military positions along the border.
It would be useful to know if this repair activity is nothing new -
something observed periodically over the years or something unusual. Without
this information the report about the repair activity is hardly reassuring.]
Security and Defense: Hold your peace
Yaakov Katz, THE JERUSALEM POST May. 10, 2007
In 1973, Wolfgang Jilke was a young lieutenant with the Austrian army,
stationed in the Sinai Desert as part of a United Nations contingent
responsible for overseeing the Israeli-Egyptian cease-fire obtained
following the Six Day War.
The day the Yom Kippur War ended, Jilke got a call from UN headquarters
ordering him to take his squad and drive north - through the Sinai and the
State of Israel, up to the Golan Heights. A day earlier, Israel and Syria
had reached a cease-fire ending close to three weeks of fighting; and the
UN, sensing the need for a peacekeeping force, wanted Jilke to get there as
soon as possible, to begin securing the fragile cessation of hostilities.
He spent the day driving north, and when he arrived on the Golan, he and his
men became the security team for a makeshift headquarters that had been
setup for the Israelis and Syrians to use to negotiate a disengagement of
Jilke, 58, has come a long way in the 33 years since then. Today, in what he
says will be his final job in uniform, he is commander of the peacekeeping
force he was sent to set up, now known as the United Nations Disengagement
Observer Force (UNDOF).
Today, with tensions rising in the region and Israeli defense officials
predicting that war with Syria is potentially near, Jilke's job has never
been more important.
UNDOF's main task is maintaining the cease-fire, and Jilke told The
Jerusalem Post this week in his first interview since taking up his post in
February: "My job is about deescalating."
To maintain the cease-fire, UNDOF mans more than 40 outposts and patrols an
80-kilometer long, 10-km. wide buffer zone running from Lebanon to Jordan.
The zone separates the Golan Heights from Syria: with the Golan Heights
border known as "Line Alpha," and the Syrian border known as "Line Bravo."
UNDOF also maintains "areas of limitation" - some running 35 km. deep into
Israel and Syria - in which the countries are only allowed to deploy
agreed-upon numbers of troops and weaponry. Jilke and his men conduct
periodic inspections within these areas and go base-to-base counting the
number of tanks, soldiers and weapons each side has amassed.
ACCORDING TO Jilke, Syria has stationed only 40 percent of the permitted
forces within the areas of limitation, a clear indication that it is not
interested in war with Israel. In fact, he says, there is more military
activity on the Israeli side of the border.
A visit to the Ziouani UN base, just north of Merom Golan, is like stepping
into a different country and is unlike any IDF base. There, Jilke is greeted
at the front gate by the Indian base commander, who walks around with a
small leather whip tucked under his arm. As he walks through the base, Jilke
is greeted by each soldier with a quick salute and a "Good afternoon." He
Since the Second Lebanon War, the IDF has gradually begun granting more
importance to the multinational forces deployed along Israel's borders.
There is UNDOF in Syria, UNIFIL in southern Lebanon, the Multinational Force
and Observers in the Sinai and the European Union Border Assistance Mission
(EUBAM) at the Rafah crossing in the Gaza Strip.
The outcome of the Lebanon war and Israel's heavy reliance on UNIFIL to
prevent Hizbullah from returning to its former border outposts have created
a new understanding within the IDF: better to work with the foreign forces
than against them.
The same transformation has happened within the IDF with regard to its
relationship with UNDOF. As with UNIFIL, the IDF has upgraded talks with
UNDOF and invites Jilke for weekly high-level meetings with senior IDF
officers, including OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot and Golan
Division commander Brig.-Gen. Eli Reiter.
Jilke says he is aware of the importance of his job. He is concerned with
the escalation in rhetoric on both sides of the border, he says, adding,
"When I talk to [Syrian] authorities, I hear, 'We would like to have back
the Golan' according to the UN Security Council resolutions. It is our land
and we would like to have it back."
But, he says, carefully watching his words as though to avoid a political
slip, "As a military man, I understand the strategic importance of the
JILKE'S DECISION to speak to the press was not coincidental; it was part of
an attempt to alleviate Israeli concerns. While Syria is repairing military
positions along the border, its army has not beefed up its forces on the
Golan Heights, Jilke says.
"Within my area of responsibility, there is no military buildup," he says.
"From my point of view, there is nothing on the level of strategic interest
that could or would lead to concern [for Israel]."
Whether or not this assessment is entirely accurate, it should not be
ignored. Jilke lives in Damascus and is based out of Camp Faouar on the
Syrian side of the Golan Heights. He holds daily meetings with Syrian and
IDF officials, and has a sense of the mood within the Syrian military and
His motive is also quite clear: As the UN commander responsible for
maintaining the cease-fire, he would like to prevent war at all costs.